The smart lace collar, bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd beside her bench, and, of course, a parade of plaintiffs and defendants, some of whom would prove themselves to be, in one of her favorite estimations, full of baloney: all the hallmarks of a Judge Judy episode. Except this time, it was Judge Judy Primetime.
In celebration of her 18 seasons in daytime syndication — where she averages more than 9 million viewers a day, a stat many primetime series can only aspire to — Judge Judith Sheindlin became the first star to air her court series in primetime with Tuesday night’s CBS special.
Ten things we learned about the delightfully feisty, BS-intolerant magistrate in the p.m. hour:
1. Judith Sheindlin was a real-life judge in the New York City Family Court system, working in the Bronx and Manhattan for more than 20 years.
2. Judge Judy first caught a national audience’s attention when 60 Minutes ran an October 1993 segment — called “Law and Disorder” — covering her NYC courtroom work. Yes, she wore the lace collar on her robe even in her pre-TV days; yes, she had no patience for sass from attorneys or their clients (one lawyer could be seen mouthing the word "b----" after being admonished by Sheindlin during the segment); and yes, she had a habit of delivering her judgments quickly and pithily. 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer described her tough-gal reputation thusly: "To those who confront her, she is the evil queen in the lace collar."
3. No one will ever describe her as a pussycat, but Sheindlin shared with Safer her motivation for working in the Family Court system for so many years: "What keeps me going is those cases… maybe ten a year… where I can make a difference," she said about the often heartbreaking cases involving children.
4. After the 60 Minutes episode aired, Sheindlin was approached by TV producers who wanted her to host her own show. She retired as a New York City judge in 1996, and Judge Judy debuted on September 16, 1996. In another 60 Minutes segment with Safer, which aired a decade after the original, Sheindlin said, "Right now, I would be satisfied with a ten-year run, I think. If we could end on a high note, and I still had people watching, and I had a second career that was a blast, my God, what an adventure it would have been, and why would you have any regrets at all?" Judge Judy has been renewed to run through — at least — a 21st season in 2016-17.
5. Of her financial situation, Sheindlin told Safer, "I would have been happy with my pension as a family court judge ($35-40,000 per year)… go down to Florida, buy a two-bedroom condo, and eat early-birds. That was the idea." Instead, TV Guide reports Sheindlin is the highest-paid TV performer in any genre, pulling in $47 million a year, or about $900,000 for each of the 52 days she tapes her show each year.
6. Samuel L. Jackson is a huge fan of Judge Judy’s brand of courtroom justice. He said so while hosting Judge Judy Primetime.
7. On Tuesday's episode of The Talk, Sheindlin shared with the hosts that her favorite "Judy-ism" — "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining," also the title of her first book in 1996 — came from her father. A few more choice Judy-isms she's dropped on litigants throughout the years: "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn't work, and it annoys the pig"; "Either you're playing dumb, or it's not an act"; "They don't keep me here because I'm gorgeous and 5'10" (she's 5'2", by the way); "On your best day, you're not as smart as I am on my worst day"; "'Uh' is not an answer"; "'Um' is not an answer"; "You speak, I rule, and then you shut up"; and "Are you trying to justify to me the fact that you're an idiot?"
8. Judge Judy did hear a handful of cases during her primetime special, including one in which 21-year-old Brandon Lowe was being asked to pay for the cost of replacing a car engine he'd blown out when he tried to drag race in a 2002 Saturn that had more than 200,000 miles on it. Lowe claimed he'd been egged on by the car's owner to race the auto, but when Judy tried to egg him on to bang his head against the courtroom table until she told him to stop… let's just say he ended up with egg on his face and an order by Judy to pony up $1,813 to the plaintiff.
9. Sheindlin is 71 years old and has 13 grandchildren. Grandma Judge Judy… think about that greeting you every year at the holidays. It's a little bit awesome, isn't it?
10. Bonus fact! He didn't get his own segment during the special — which, alone, is enough reason to get Judge Judy Primetime 2 into production, tout de suite — but we looked it up: Bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd, who Sheindlin always refers to as "Byrd," was indeed her bailiff during her days in the New York Family Court.
Judge Judy airs weekdays in syndication; check local listings for time and channel.